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How Should We Talk?: Scaffolding the Work Process for Online Groups


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Title: How Should We Talk?: Scaffolding the Work Process for Online Groups

How Should We Talk?Scaffolding the Work Process
for Online Groups
  • Vanessa Dennen, Ph.D.San Diego State University
  • http//
  • Curtis J. Bonk, Ph.D.
  • Indiana University and

Research on Nine Online Courses(Vanessa Dennen,
San Diego State Univ)
  • 9 case studies of online classes using
    asynchronous discussion
  • Topics sociology, history, communications,
    writing, library science, technology, counseling
  • Range of class size 15 - 106
  • Level survey, upper undergraduate, and graduate
  • Tools custom and commercial
  • Private, semi-public, and public discussion areas

Poor Instructors Good Instructors
  • Little or no feedback given
  • Always authoritative
  • Kept narrow focus of what was relevant
  • Created tangential discussions, fact questions
  • Only used ultimate deadlines
  • Provided regular qual/quant feedback
  • Participated as peer
  • Allowed perspective sharing
  • Tied discussion to grades, other tasks.
  • Used incremental deadlines

  • Deadlines motivated participation
  • Message counts increased in the days immediately
    preceding a deadline
  • Deadlines inhibited dialogue
  • Students posted messages but did not discuss
  • Too much lag time between initial messages and

  • Instructor modeling increased the likelihood of
    student messages meeting quality and content
  • Modeling was more effective than guidelines

Guidelines and Feedback
  • Qualitative discussion guidelines and feedback
    helped students know what their participation
    should look like
  • Quantitative discussion guidelines and feedback
    comforted students and was readily understood by
  • Feedback of both varieties was needed at regular
    intervals, although the qualitative feedback need
    not be individualized

Common Instructor Complaints
  1. Students dont participate
  2. Students all participate at the last minute
  3. Students post messages but dont converse
  4. Facilitation takes too much time
  5. If they must be absent, the discussion dies off
  6. Students are confused

Reasons why...
  • Students dont participate
  • Because it isnt required
  • Because they dont know what is expected
  • Students all participate at last minute
  • Because that is what was required
  • Because they dont want to be the first
  • Instructor posts at the last minute

How would you respond?
  1. Who invented ______?
  2. Who was the most influential political figure of
    the 1990s?
  3. What were the 3 main points of the reading?

Common problems with online discussion prompts
  • Too vague
  • Learners have no idea how to respond
  • Too fact-based
  • Only one or two persons need to respond
  • Lack directions for interactions
  • Learners dont know what acceptable participation
    looks like

Elements of a good prompt
  • Specifies the desired response type
  • Allows for multiple correct answers (perspective
    sharing, unique application of knowledge)
  • Provides guidance for peer interaction
  • Fosters reflection, thinking, or collaboration

A 5-Stage Approach Async
  1. Initial topic or idea generation
  2. Initial response
  3. Respond to peers (can continue for as long as
  4. Wrap up questions
  5. Reflect

A sample 5-part prompt
  • Step 1 Idea Generation
  • Find a recent news story online or announcement
    that provides an example of one of the issues or
    concepts in our recent readings. Post the URL and
    a brief summary of the article. Do not go into
    detail of what this is an example of or how it
    relates to the reading.

A sample 5-part prompt (2)
  • Step 2 Initial Response
  • Select and read one of your classmate's
    contributions, and post a message under their
    thread that discusses what major issues this
    article relates to and support your assertions
    with references to our course readings. If there
    are secondary issues, mention those as well.
    Please respond to a message that has not yet
    received a response so that we can make sure
    everyone gets at least one response. You may, of
    course, respond to multiple threads if you wish.

3-sentence rule
  • Avoid overwhelming I agree type messages
  • Require that all students post messages of 3
    sentences or longer
  • The result
  • I agree with you.
  • Thats a good idea
  • Ummm. I have to actually say something now!

Web Facilitation???
Facilitation (Dennen, 2001)
  • High instructor presence
  • 11 student-instructor message ratio created low
    peer interaction
  • Participant-like IP facilitated peer interaction
  • Instructor modeling increased student messages
    meeting quality and content expectations
  • Modeling was more effective than guidelines
  • Deadlines motivated participation
  • Deadlines inhibited dialogue

Facilitation (Dennen, 2001)
  • Participation was higher when students had a
    clear goal extrinsic motivation to participate
  • Relevance has a positive effect on participation
  • Greater dialogue when shared perspectives
  • Fact-based qing strategies did not work well
  • Consistent, regular fdbk motivates students
  • Quantitative and qualitative guidelines

Year 2 Focus on Forming Groups
Social Interaction in Online Learning
  • A situationalities framework for choosing
    instructional methods

Dr. Brian J. BeattyCenter for Research on
Learning and TechnologySchool of Education,
Indiana University August 15, 2002
What are effective combinations of social
interaction methods to use, for different
conditions and values, in order to achieve
specific learning goals?
  • Case Survey
  • 30 cases from published, peer reviewed sources
  • Interviews
  • 5 selected authors
  • Surveys
  • All authors solicited, 50 participation

20 Implications
  1. Select instructional methods based on fundamental
    values and goals.
  2. Take the time to consider the instructional
    conditions associated with selected instructional

20 Implications (cont.)
  • Be prepared to modify instructional methods to
    accommodate emergent instructional conditions.
  • Keep a record of changes to instructional methods
    youve used in response to changing situations.
  • The use of domain experts outside of the
    official class is an effective method to build
    a sense of learning community.
  • Prepare students to use the communications
    technologies before requiring significant
    collaborative work.
  • Encouraging students to provide technical support
    to one another can be an effective method of
    building online learning community.

20 Implications (cont.)
  1. The educational purpose for using instructional
    methods that use social interaction should be
    readily apparent to students.
  2. Do not overwhelm students with many new
    technologies at once.
  3. For asynchronous discussions, plan for
    structuring student participation patterns.
  4. Allow for socially-focused discussions, but dont
    expect them to thrive in all situations.
  5. Synchronous methods should vary depending on the
    size of the participant group.

20 Implications (cont.)
  1. External, non-instructional conditions can
    influence the effectiveness of instructional
  2. Plan to support student self-regulated learning
    (self pacing, etc.).
  3. Student motivation is the most common and overall
    the most important instructional condition..
  4. Instructor motivation is an important condition,
  5. There are instructional methods that use social
    interaction that can be effectively used to meet
    any instructional situation.

Vanessa Dennen Year 2
How Should We Talk?
  • Inspired by students in an online class asking
    How should we talk? in response to being
    assigned to a group project
  • The advice in this presentation comes from
  • Research on online classes and work groups
    (Dennen, 2001-2)
  • Experience during 5 years of teaching online and
    blended classes and requiring group projects

Online Work GroupsInstructor Perspective
  • Students can learn from each other
  • Groups can accomplish more than individuals
  • Prepares students for real-world teamwork
  • Fewer projects to monitor / grade

Online Work GroupsStudent Perspective
  • Potential for aggravating team members
  • Potential for lazy/non-productive team members
  • Potential for team members who hijack projects

Challenges of Group Work
  • Equitable distribution of labor
  • Timeliness of contributions
  • Quality of contributions
  • Communication and within-group feedback
  • These challenges are felt more strongly by
    online groups who never meet face to face and may
    not communicate in real time

Helpful Group Qualities
  • Shared interests
  • Adequate ability across members to complete tasks
  • Ability to communicate effectively

Key Strategies for Scaffolding Online Group Work
  • Structure the assignment
  • Determine communication tools
  • Check on progress
  • Assess process as well as product

Structuring the Assignment
  • Start date, end date, and final deliverable may
    not be enough
  • Procrastination in an asynchronous environment
    can be deadly!
  • Break the project into smaller parts with
    incremental due dates
  • Helps keep students focused
  • Encourages continuous participation/discourages
  • Require students to create a work plan

Sample Assignment Structure
  • Week 1 Developing a work plan and picking a
  • Week 2 Gathering and summarizing resources
  • Week 3 Outlining and writing report
  • Week 4 Editing report and preparing presentation
  • Week 5 Presentations

The Work Plan
  • Helps keep groups focused
  • Essentially, a group contract for when and how
    the work will be done
  • Groups can follow a format recommended by the
    instructor, but personalized to meet their needs
  • Helps lay the groundwork for a successful group

Sample Work Plan Topics
  • Listing of each group members strengths
  • subject matter areas editing creating
  • Schedule for completing work
  • Includes group expectations for submitting drafts
    or commenting on each others contributions
  • Commitment for how work will be completed
  • collab. writing process, divide and conquer, etc.
  • Communication methods and expectations
  • Contact info, commitment for checking in with
  • Tool and style expectations
  • Preferred word processors, fonts, etc.

More Tips for Group Productivity
  • Post the assignment well in advance
  • Students will know it is coming and (hopefully)
    check in at the beginning of the assignment
  • Encourage roles and meeting minutes
  • One student should be project manager
  • One student should be the group liaison with the
  • One might serve as compiler and editor
  • Assign project groups to provide each other with
    formative (and perhaps summative) peer feedback
  • Students are kept on task when outsiders are
    reviewing their work

Help With Communication Tools
  • Students likely dont know how to be productive
    online teammates
  • Different students may have different preferred
    communication styles
  • Organization and clear expectations are important
  • Imagine tracking different drafts of a group
    paper, all with different titles and posted in
    various locations

How Can An Instructor Help?
  • Make students aware of their communication
  • Provide strategies for using different tools
  • When to use each tool
  • How to thread discussion
  • How to quote messages to maintain context
  • How to organize and name files

Possible Communication Tools
  • E-mail
  • Students may default to this medium
  • Good for reaching people quickly
  • Not good for substantive group work (doesnt
    archive or thread well)
  • Asynchronous discussion board
  • Good for sharing information, providing critique
  • May need to e-mail non-active group members and
    get them to check the board

More Communication Tools
  • Chat
  • Good for making decisions and/or periodic
  • Should encourage students to have regularly
    scheduled chats, if possible, and archive them
  • File exchange
  • Good for keeping all files in one location
  • Should encourage students to find a naming
    convention that indicates file draft/version
  • MS Word
  • Teach students how to use the comments and track
    changes features

Checking on Progress
  • Require students to submit regular (weekly?)
    updates via an agreed upon medium, such as e-mail
  • May use a designated contact for each group, or
    request a report from each student
  • Group reports are easy to track
  • Individual reports help keep everyone involved
    and identify non-participants quickly
  • Require a standard reporting format
  • Makes keeping tabs on groups more efficient
  • May want to vary format/content based on the
    week/part of project

When to Intervene
  • Request access to discussion boards and file
    exchanges to monitor progress
  • Peek in once/week just to make sure the group is
  • Monitor (browse) interim deliverables and contact
    the group if there are problems such as
  • Deliverable not complete
  • Deliverable not as expected / off-track
  • Evidence of project hijacking/ non-participating

Intervention Options
  • E-mail the group and comment on the state of
    their project
  • E-mail an individual (hijacker, non-participant)
    and provide suggestions for how they might get
    others (or themselves) more involved
  • Set up a time to chat with the group
  • Particularly helpful if you identify
  • Difficulty coming to consensus or making
  • Tensions amongst group members
  • Group members not listening to each other

Assessing ProcessStudent Perspective
  • Assessing process indicates to students that you
    care how they get the work done
  • When process is assessed, students are more
    likely to
  • Engage in reflection and discussion (instead of
    just getting it done)
  • Seek team feedback
  • Communicate more regularly
  • Get work done on schedule

Assessing ProcessInstructor Perspective
  • Provides formative feedback for improving the
    assignment next time
  • Prevents students from snowing the instructor
    about their involvement
  • HOW the work got done and WHO did it is clear
  • Helps assign grades appropriate to the individual
    students contributions
  • Maintains the sense that the instructor is
    guiding students throughout all parts of the

Possible Methods of Assessment
  • Review of online group work spaces
  • Evidence of regular and substantial contributions
  • Self and peer assessment
  • Have students rate team members on various
  • Have students indicate where work plan was
    followed/not followed
  • Student reflection
  • Have students write brief reflections on their
    group process, indicating what they might change
    the next time

Closing Thoughts
  • Students need help in online classes to
  • Form groups
  • Chunk and schedule work
  • Select and use appropriate communication tools
  • Progress reports help maintain a smooth process
  • Assessing process helps debrief a project and
    improve the assignment and student work habits
    for the next time

Please feel free to contact me
  • My sincere apologies for being unable to present
  • Please contact me at
  • if you have any specific
  • questions

(No Transcript)
Online Mentoring and Assistance Online
Twelve forms of electronic learning mentoring and
assistance(Bonk Kim, 1998 Tharp, 1993 Bonk
et al., 2001)
1. Social (and cognitive) Acknowledgement
"Hello...," "I agree with everything said so
far...," "Wow, what a case," "This case certainly
has provoked a lot of discussion...," "Glad you
could join us..."
2. Questioning "What is the name of this
concept...?," "Another reason for this might
be...?," "An example of this is...," "In contrast
to this might be...,""What else might be
important here...?," "Who can tell me....?," "How
might the teacher..?." "What is the real problem
here...?," "How is this related to...?,, "Can
you justify this?"
3. Direct Instruction "I think in class we
mentioned that...," Chapter X talks about...,"
"Remember back to the first week of the semester
when we went over X which indicated that..."
4. Modeling/Examples "I think I solved this sort
of problem once when I...," "Remember that video
we saw on X wherein Y decided to...,"
"Doesn't X give insight into this problem in
case Z when he/she said..."
5. Feedback/Praise "Wow, I'm impressed...,"
"That shows real insight into...," "Are you sure
you have considered...," "Thanks for responding
to X...," "I have yet to see you or anyone
6. Cognitive Task Structuring "You know, the
task asks you to do...," "Ok, as was required,
you should now summarize the peer responses that
you have received...," "How might the textbook
authors have solved this case."
7. Cognitive Elaborations/Explanations "Provide
more information here that explains your
rationale," "Please clarify what you mean by...,"
"I'm just not sure what you mean by...," "Please
evaluate this solution a little more carefully."
8. Push to Explore "You might want to write to
Dr. XYZ for...," "You might want to do an ERIC
search on this topic...," "Perhaps there is a URL
on the Web that addresses this topic..."
9. Fostering Reflection/Self Awareness "Restate
again what the teacher did here," "How have you
seen this before?," "When you took over this
class, what was the first thing you did?,"
"Describe how your teaching philosophy will vary
from this...," "How might an expert teacher
handle this situation?"
10. Encouraging Articulation/Dialogue Prompting
"What was the problem solving process the teacher
faced here?," "Does anyone have a counterpoint or
alternative to this situation?," "Can someone
give me three good reasons why...," "It still
seems like something is missing here, I just
can't put my finger on it."
11. General Advice/Scaffolding/Suggestions "If I
were in her shoes, I would...," "Perhaps I would
think twice about putting these people into...,"
"I know that I would first...," "How totally
ridiculous this all is certainly the person
should be able to provide some..."
12. Management (via private e-mail or
discussion) "Don't just criticize....please be
sincere when you respond to your peers," "If you
had put your case in on time, you would have
gotten more feedback." "If you do this again, we
will have to take away your privileges."
Which of these 12 do you think are the most
prevalent on the Web?___________________________
TICKIT Staff Mentoring (IU Study) (direct
instruction and explanations 0)
(Bonk, Ehman, Hixon, 2000)
Bye, Bye
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